Of all the approaches Disney could have taken to the beloved story of Cinderella, how on earth did it settle on this one? Director Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation of the tale, written by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”), is stately and sumptuous, but dull and never, ever delightful.
Disney’s instinct, spurred by Tim Burton’s blockbuster success a few years back with “Alice in Wonderland,” is sound, but ushering “Cinderella” into theaters so soon after fairy-tale musical “Into the Woods” is a clumsy move. The studio ignored the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical from the 1950s and forgot its own mildly amusing cartoon musical from the same era and went for a “Cinderella” that’s full of back-story and behind-the-scenes scheming. It gave the reins to Branagh, and he treated the project like his many Shakespeare adaptations, sparing no expense for amazing costumes and lush, baroque sets.
Still, what the director has delivered is a lovely corpse of a fairy tale that’s helped not at all by a blandly pretty lead (Lily James) and even blander Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Cate Blanchett makes a vile but underplayed evil stepmother. The simpering stepsisters (Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger) barely register.
Things perk up in this overly familiar story only when the Fairy Godmother shows up. Helena Bonham Carter threatens to energize the proceedings the way her Red Queen juiced “Alice in Wonderland.” But even she is ultimately a bibbidi-bobbidi-boo or two short.
The look is always spot-on, and the transformation effects (pumpkin-to-carriage and so forth) are perfect. But the preteen girls this is intended for have a right to expect more laughs, broader villainy and more fun.
This time out, the glass slipper doesn’t fit.